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Making cancer bearable for kids

On a sunny, winter morning, a group of about two dozen children, between the ages of three and 12, clap and recite poems along with an instructor in a courtyard outside the out-patients-department at the AIIMS, one of Asia’s largest research and referral hospitals. It’s that brief, transient tranquility in a day fraught with pain and uncertainty.

As they get busy, they momentarily forget that their parents have queued up outside a counter at AIIMS to take them through the traumatic and, often, painful drill of cancer detection and treatment. For most of the young cancer patients, a bulk of whom are from other states, the congregation on the chattai, or simple reed mats, and related activities are the only pleasant memories they carry home after a painful day at the hospital. ‘I enjoy the fun activity here,’ Mohammed Rehan, 3, a resident of Alamganj in Bihar’s capital Patna, who has blood cancer, said.

The young patient acknowledges the gains from the chattai ‘clinic’. Behind it is the complex exercise of relaxation and group therapies, along with motivational and self-esteem modules, prepared by volunteers and the education team of NGO Cankids Kidscan.

Saloni, 6, suffering from throat cancer, is also a regular at the chattai meetings during visits to the hospital from her house in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh neighbourhood. ‘Papa takes me to doctor inside when my turn comes; till then I spend time here,’ Saloni, whose father is a driver, said. The two bravehearts fighting cancer are not alone. There are many others like them who attend about seven weekly chattai sessions catering to 300 children outside several cancer OPDs at AIIMS.

Poonam Bagai, chairperson of Cankids said, ‘Our chattai sessions are in the open intentionally, as we want to create awareness and invite public inquiries.’

‘One aspect of the exercise is to distract the child from the sometimes painful treatment drill and impart some craft and learning skills,’ she said.

‘A child breathes easy when he is away from the ward where he is forced to see other cancer patients in suffering,’ said the head of Cankids, herself a cancer survivor. The NGO engages teachers to impart informal education and skills during the children’s period of treatment. This, in particular, helps reintegration into schooling and society generally, once treatment is completed. The NGO offers emotional support to patients’ parents and extends financial assistance for their treatment. As Manoj Kumar Gujela, Cankids’ senior programme officer, put it, ‘No child should suffer for want of treatment because of lack of finance.’

Bagai, the brain behind the arrangement with the AIIMS’ authorities for helping cancer-afflicted kids, said similar arrangements were being put in place in 29 cancer centres across the country.

Many of the volunteers are themselves survivors or parents of kids who overcame the disease while being supported by the NGO. They are are empowered to become skilled advocates and navigators – who help patients during their hospital visits, Bagai said. (IANS)
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